Washington Nationals’ fans got hit with a surprise on Thursday afternoon as they found out left fielder Jayson Werth will need arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. Werth is scheduled to miss 2-3 months, putting opening day against the New York Mets on April 6 in jeopardy. The question is this, what are the Nats’ contingency plans if Werth needs to miss anytime after the three months?
One of the names that has been liked to the team this offseason in trade rumors is Tampa Bay Rays’ second baseman Ben Zobrist, who has some experience playing the outfield. Well, according to FOX Sports and MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, Washington is not exactly involved in the pursuit of the 33-year-old:
“Yet, the Nats are not actively pursuing Zobrist, according to major-league sources – not pursuing him even though he would provide a significant upgrade at second base and protection in an outfield that also includes the oft-injured Bryce Harper.” (h/t FOXSports.com)
Like Rosenthal says in his piece, I think Zobrist is a good fit for the Nationals, even though it comes with a high price tag. He has one year left on his deal worth $7.5 million and as I mentioned in my article last week, he is the upgrade on offense over Danny Espinosa at the position. Now, if Werth has to miss some games to start the season, you can play Zobrist in the outfield and let Espinosa play second base.
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If Zobrist doesn’t come to Washington, who are some options that could play left field in Werth’s potential absence? One of them is homegrown in outfielder Michael Taylor. Taylor is the #3 prospect in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline.
The 23-year-old did play 17 games last season with the Nats, hitting .205 with one home run and five RBI’s. At the very least, Washington will get a chance to get an extended look at him in Spring Training to see if he can make the 25-man roster for Opening Day.
The strikeouts are high for Taylor with 17 K’s in 39 at-bats and he led all of the Eastern League (AA) in strikeouts with 130 when he was with the Harrisburg Senators last year. However, he brings the speed element to the game with 34 stolen bases at AA and brings another base stealer to the fold with Denard Span.
If Washington wants to go with a veteran, Nate McLouth would seem to get the first chance. McLouth was out with a shoulder injury for the final two months of the season. He hit .247 this past season with the Nats, but hit .194 as a starter. Plus, the eight-year veteran hasn’t hit better than .276 in any particular year.
Let’s take a look at a possible free agent option that was also on the team this past season. Nate Schierholtz was picked up by the Nats in August on a minor-league deal after the Cubs released him, but he only hit .225 in 23 games. That being said, he is not too far removed from his 21 homer season with the Cubs in 2013. Plus, as James Wagner of the Washington Post tweeted, the organization did like him despite the low batting average.
With that being said, a trade of Zobrist would further enhance the Nats’ championship aspirations for 2015 and be more of an all-in kind of year for GM Mike Rizzo. However, with young pitching prospects such as A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito on the way, it would be tough for the organization to give those players up for most likely, a one-year rental.
As of right now, Washington got good news on the Werth front in that he likely won’t miss any games to start the season, but don’t expect a big blockbuster move to happen on the Zobrist front. Instead, the Nats will look to win with the players they have now while also taking more of a look at Michael Taylor down in Viera, Florida to see what he could give the team in 2014 and beyond.